Viewing the Church of Christ in her relationship to her glorious covenant Head, which we have pointed out as the characteristic mark and distinguishing feature of this Epistle, two things, intimately connected with this relationship, prominently meet our eye—1, her being; 2, her well-being; first that the Church is; secondly, that she is what she is. The first of these two points we shall but briefly touch upon; the second, as intimately connected with our subject, will require from us a fuller and larger degree of handling. And if our exposition of this part of the chapter should seem somewhat dull or dry, as being chiefly doctrinal, be it borne in mind that sound and clear doctrine must ever precede and be the foundation of all sound and clear experience of the truth in its purity and its power.
1. That there should be a Church at all is, in itself, a marvel which surpasses and baffles all our attempts to understand or explain; for consider, for a moment, what is involved in the simple fact made known to us only by divine revelation, and only received by faith, that there is a Church, "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." That God should have chosen, before the foundation of the world, an innumerable multitude of the human race, and that these should form, in their united assemblage, one perfect, harmonious body—the mystical body of Christ, and as such should be the Bride and Spouse of the Son of God—what a mystery of wisdom and grace is here! At present, we know but in part, (1 Cor. 13:9,) and can therefore, only stand, as if in holy admiration, on the brink of this sea of love and grace, without being able, in our time-state, to embark upon and sail over it. We believe it only on the testimony of God in the word; and if we can rejoice in hope of personal interest in it, it is only from the testimony of God in the soul.
As, then, by faith we view what the Apostle calls "the mystery of Christ," which "from the beginning of the world was hidden in God, but in due time was revealed unto the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit," which mystery is the union of Head and members into one mystical body, the question may, perhaps, arise in our mind, "How can these things be?" To this our chief answer must be, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things; to whom be glory forever. Amen." (Rom. 11:33-36.)
But viewing this divine mystery as revealed in the word of truth, with special reference to the two points already named, we may briefly say that the sovereign will of God is the cause of the Church's being; and his eternal love, boundless grace, and infinite wisdom the cause of her well-being.
It is not well, perhaps, to draw too fine or needless distinctions; and yet it may help our thoughts in contemplating this heavenly mystery to see that there is a distinction between the Church simply being the bride of Christ, and the Church being a bride adorned for him with all her beauty and glory. A simple illustration may assist us here. Youth, beauty, and graceful accomplishments, sweetness of temper, and amiability of disposition, do not constitute womanhood; nor are they necessary to kindle love in man's heart; and yet they may much endear the bride who possesses them to him who has won her affections, and can now call her by marriage his. So the Church's present grace and future glory do not make her to be a Church; but being constituted a Church by the appointment of the Father, her beauty and loveliness enhance her heavenly Bridegroom's love, and call forth those almost rapturous words from his lips, "You are all fair, my love; there is no spot in you." "You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one of your eyes, with one chain of your neck. How fair is your love, my sister, my spouse! How much better is your love than wine; and the fragrance of your ointments, than all spices!" (Song of Sol. 4:9, 10.)
It is this beauty of the Church which we have now to unfold; for it mainly consists in her being blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ.
2. It being, then, the sovereign goodwill and pleasure of the Father that there should be a Church, as the bride and spouse of his dear Son, his love went out in blessing her, his grace in enriching her, and his wisdom in furnishing her with every qualification suitable to her high and heavenly calling, and to that state of ultimate and eternal glory for which he had designed her. And do we not see a glorious beauty and harmony in all this? Being but a creature, even in her primitive innocence, in all the purity of her unfallen condition, the Church, as she could have had no existence but by the sovereign goodwill and pleasure of God, so she could not have furnished herself with those qualifications which should render her a suitable bride, friend, and companion for the Son of God. As then love moved the heart of the Father toward her, so wisdom directed his counsels; and the result was that he blessed her with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in the Son of his love. Thus was she prepared beforehand in eternity as "a bride adorned for her husband;" for she was viewed by him, "who sees the end from the beginning," with whom there is neither time nor space, but one eternal "now," then as she will one day appear, arrayed in all the beauties of holiness, and shining forth in all the glory of the Lord the Lamb.
Verse 4.But this brings us to resume the thread of our exposition; for what followed upon the sovereign goodwill and pleasure of God that there should be a Church, and that he blessed her with all spiritual blessings in Christ? The determinate choice of the members of this mystical body, which we believe to have been not general and indiscriminate, not national or to privileges, not with respect to faith and obedience foreseen, or any other such scheme as the wit of man has devised to nullify or render palatable a doctrine offensive to the carnal mind; but an election personal and individual; in other words, an absolute, unconditional, and distinct choice of every individual member, so that there should be, in their totality, neither more nor fewer than should make a perfect body. This personal and individual election is intimated in the words—"According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." (Eph. 1:4.)
The connection between this and the preceding verse lies in the words, "According as." Having simply declared that God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, the Apostle goes to show why and how he has so blessed us. It is "according as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." Election in Christ, therefore, precedes being blessed with all spiritual blessings; for we are blessed with them only as being in him, and we are only in him as chosen in him. We thus see what an important and momentous truth the doctrine of election is, and that in it not only our very present existence, our now living and moving on this earth, is bound up, but that all our hopes and prospects for the future center in it. Election also, we may remark, though distinct and personal, is not, as is sometimes loosely and confusedly stated, a mere abstract or absolute choice of persons to eternal salvation, irrespective of their union with their covenant Head, but, according to our text, is a choice of them in Christ. It, therefore, precedes every blessing, and they were given only through it and in accordance with it.
God chose him and the elect in him at one and the same moment, and by one and the same act. Jesus Christ is, therefore, the Head of election and of the elect of God; for as in the natural body the head was not first formed and then the members, but head and members were by one and the same act called at the same moment into being; so it was with Christ mystical. God the Father did not choose Christ first to be a Mediator, and then choose his people by a subsequent act, and put them into him, which would be setting up a Head without members, a Bridegroom without a bride, a Shepherd without sheep, and a Vine without branches; but chose him and them in him by one eternal act.
You will also carefully bear in mind that Christ was not chosen to be the Son of God by this act of election, for this he ever was and is by virtue of his eternal subsistence; but being, already and eternally being, the Son of the Father in truth and love, and fore-viewed and predestinated as incarnate, he was chosen as God-man Mediator, and his people chosen in him as such. Here we see both their being and their well-being; why they are, and why they are what they are. Here we see two divine mysteries unfolded, in which are wrapped up all that the elect of God are and all that they ever will be—1. Their union with Christ; 2. The blessings which they possess in him by virtue of that union. Here we see why and how God has blessed them with all spiritual blessings. It is "in him," and because they are in him as being chosen in him.
Viewing them, therefore, in union with his dear Son, God loved them with the same love as he loved him (John 17:23,) and out of the fullness of this love he blessed them with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in him. It was as if he could not do enough for the bride of his dear Son; as if he would enrich and endow her with every blessing which could not only qualify her to be a suitable spouse, but raise and elevate her to a state of holiness, happiness, and glory, not only beyond all human or angelic thought or conception, but such as would satisfy the very heart of God himself, and display to all eternity the riches of his wisdom and grace, and the height, depth, length, and breadth of his love.
This, then, brings us back to the fuller consideration and examination ofthe SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS with which God has blessed the Church in heavenly places in Christ.
i. The first spiritual blessing is being "chosen in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blame before God in love." We prefer ourselves to put the stop after "before him," and connecting the words "in love" with the next verse, to read it thus: "In love having predestinated us." But we will first take the words as they stand in our translation.
Two spiritual blessings are spoken of here—1, holiness; 2, blamelessness. Unto both of these, as needful qualifications to render her a suitable bride for the Son of God, was the Church chosen. As it is very desirable to understand what is signified or implied by these two qualifications, we shall endeavor to unfold them separately, that we may enter into their spiritual meaning, and try our own state and standing by them. And we may here remark that unless we can raise our eyes to the position which the Church occupies as the spouse and bride of the Son of God, all our views of her will be weak and defective, and our own experience of spiritual blessings, as their design and result, be dim and confused.
The grand end and result of all personal experience of spiritual blessings is to bring us into manifested union and communion with the Lord Jesus, so as to drink into his spirit, have his mind, and be conformed to his likeness. We thus become one spirit with him; and without this there can be no communion between him and us. Even in earthly marriage, there must be some union of soul as well as of body, of mind as well as of person—of spirit as well as of flesh—between man and wife, and especially in the case of the people of God, to make wedded life happy. What makes so many miserable marriages but disparity and unsuitability of mind or disposition between the parties? When God, then, would provide a bride for his dear Son, he took abundant care that she should be a suitable friend and companion—as well as wedded spouse. They were to dwell together in the most blissful intimacy of spirit through a glorious eternity. She must, therefore, be perfectly conformed to his image, that he might delight in her as reflecting his beauty and glory, and she delight in him as beholding all the perfections of Deity shining forth through the medium of his glorified humanity. This was why God chose her to the possession and enjoyment of two of the richest spiritual blessings which even his wisdom could devise or his love bestow—1, perfection of holiness within; 2, a perfection of spotless beauty without. The psalmist puts them together in one verse, "The King's daughter is all glorious within." There is her inward perfection in holiness. "Her clothing is of wrought gold." There is her outward perfection; We will look at both these blessings in connection with the verse now before us. And first of the choice of the Church unto holiness.
1. By HOLINESS we may understand two things—1, holiness in its germ or earthly beginning; and 2, holiness in its full maturity or heavenly completion. God is essentially and infinitely holy; and he has said to his people, "Be holy, for I am holy." (1 Pet. 1:15.) So holy is he, that nothing which is unholy can live in his presence. As, then, without holiness no man can see the Lord, so, without holiness no man can enjoy the Lord. Holiness, as an internal grace, is especially a spiritual blessing, for it mainly consists in a spiritual capacity to delight in God as essentially and ineffably holy, and to have communion with him from oneness of spirit with the Lord Jesus, who is the brightness of his glory and the express image of his Person.
The happiness of heaven is not only to be perfectly holy, but to enjoy eternal communion with a Three-One God in all the beauties of holiness. This is the fitness for the inheritance of the saints in light, without which heaven, could they reach it, would be no heaven to them. There is a depth of vital truth in those remarkable words of the Apostle, to which we have already alluded—"But he who is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." (1 Cor. 6:17.) Thus, even here below, with all our weakness and sinfulness, there is a sweet spiritual delighting in Christ as the Holy One of Israel, and so far a blessed communion with him as joined to him and one spirit with him.
Though in ourselves such hideous, loathsome lepers, polluted without and within by every sin and crime, yet, as partaking of his spirit and born of God into a new and hidden life, we cannot but, with the eyes of our new man, admire the beauty of the King as he presents himself to our view, and wins over and engages every affection of our willing heart unto himself. Indeed, if ever we hate and loathe ourselves on account of our iniquities, it is because we are so unlike him, and have so sinned against and before the eyes of his infinite purity and against his bleeding, dying love. Sin, horrid sin, is the cause of all our grief, burden, and trouble; and we are sure that whatever moments of peace we may now and then enjoy, we never can or shall be perfectly happy until we are perfectly holy, and be done forever with our daily plague and continual burden. The words of Hart well express our feelings—"But I would be holy."
And whence springs such a feeling and such a desire? From being born of God. It is our new nature, our spirit born of the Spirit, which is holy; not "our flesh in which dwells no good thing." It is this holy and divine nature in us which hates sin and pants after holiness, which relishes holy employments, and delights in spiritual enjoyments, which believes, and hopes, and loves; which prays and praises, which alternately sings and sighs; trembles and rejoices, lies at the footstool and waits at the doorposts, mourns like a dove and mounts as an eagle. But in this present earthly life, this principle of holiness is but an infant seed under the clods, as a sprouting seed in the furrow, as a tender blade amid the weeds, as a lily among the thorns. Earth is not its native climate or destined home. It is now, indeed, planted in the house of the Lord, but it will flourish only in full perfection in the courts of God. (Psalm 92:13.)
To this ultimate state of perfection in holiness is the Church chosen. And God will most certainly "perfect that which concerns her, nor will he forsake the work of his own hands." "He who has begun the good work will perform [or 'finish,' margin] it until the day of Jesus Christ;" (Phil. 1:6;) for "when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall his saints also appear with him in glory." At his appearing, "he will change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." Then, and not until then, will the holiness to which the Church has been chosen be perfect and complete. Holy in soul and holy in body, and each wholly conformed to the perfect exemplar of the glorified humanity of the Son of God, the saints will dwell forever in union and communion with their loving and beloved Lord.
2. Then, also, will the Church be "without blame before God." Most commentators, we believe, connect this spiritual blessing with the preceding, as if they formed but one; but we prefer to view them, as already observed, as distinct, and to refer the blessing of holiness to the internal, and the blessing of BLAMELESSNESS to the external character of the Church. Justification and sanctification are distinct blessings. The first springs out of, and is connected with, the finished work of the Son of God; the other springs out of, and is connected with, the work of the Holy Spirit on the soul. Sin has defiled our persons externally as well as polluted our souls internally. We cannot, therefore, stand before God unless washed in the blood of the Lamb, and clothed in his spotless righteousness. This righteousness forms our title to heaven, as holiness constitutes our fitness. The former is our wedding robe, the latter our spiritual qualification. The hymn well draws this distinction:
"Tis he adorned my naked soul,
And, lest the shadow of a spot
The Spirit wrought my faith, and love,
Without these two qualifications, what entrance could there be into heaven, or what happiness there, could entrance be gained? For consider not only the infinite purity and holiness of God, but the blazing splendor of his immediate presence—the piercing ray of his deep-searching eye. Who or what can live in his presence but what is absolutely perfect without and within? But this the Church could not be, unless she were washed in the blood and clothed in the righteousness of God's dear Son; and perfectly sanctified by the operations and indwelling of his Spirit. We therefore read—"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5:25-27.)
Both of these blessings are contained in the above words. Christ "loving the Church, and giving himself for it," implies his blood-shedding and obedience, whereby it was so thoroughly and completely justified so as to be without blame before God; and his "sanctifying and cleansing it with the washing of water by the word" points to the work of sanctification by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whereby it is made holy—here initially, hereafter perfectly; the ultimate end of both her justification and sanctification being "that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."
And, adopting for the present the usual reading, all this "in love," for love was the moving cause, as it will be the final consummation of the whole counsel of God. He, therefore, says—"I have loved you with an everlasting love." There is the moving cause. "Therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you." There is the carrying out of the purposes of his heart, in the drawing of her unto his own bosom by the cords of his loving-kindness, here to taste, there fully to enjoy, when, perfect in holiness and blameless in righteousness, the Church will be presented by her heavenly Bridegroom faultless before the presence of the Father, with exceeding joy; (Jude 24;) and thus will she dwell forever in his love.
3. The next spiritual blessing is PREDESTINATION—"Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." (Eph. 1:5.)
We have mentioned that we prefer putting the stop after "before him," and thus to connect the words "in love" with the next verse, reading the whole thus "in love having predestinated us," etc. The reasons why we prefer so to read it we will now, therefore, endeavor, to explain. First, it removes a little difficulty which seems to present itself in the way of clearly understanding the meaning of the expression, "being without blame before God in love;" for, though we have given an interpretation of the words as we believe they are usually explained, yet we confess that we are by no means fully satisfied with the explanation. It is easy to understand the meaning of being chosen unto perfect holiness, and to spotless blamelessness before God; but, according to our view, it is not so easy to see what is signified by being so "in love;" for it is not love which produces either the holiness or the blamelessness, though it enhances and completes both. But if we join "in love" to the next clause, not only is this little difficulty removed, but we are furnished with a beautiful and blessed reason why God has predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself; and we thus make it fully harmonize with the words of John on the same point—"Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God; therefore, the world knows us not, because it knew him not." (1 John 3:1.)
We may also add, as a point of learned criticism, that some of the oldest versions and ancient fathers so read the passage, and that it has been adopted by the best and newest editions of the Greek Testament. But our main reasons for so connecting the words, we shall presently more fully unfold. Adopting, then, this mode of reading the connection, we will now consider the meaning of God's having "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself."
1. And, first, what is the difference between election and predestination? or is there any difference between them? It is hardly worth while to draw, in such difficult points, minute distinctions, and yet we may safely conclude that there is some difference between them, or the Apostle would not have used the two words. We may, then, briefly say that election is the first act in the mind of God whereby he "chose the persons of the elect to be holy and without blame; and that predestination was the second act, which ratified by fixed decree the state of those to whom election had given birth. Having chosen them in his dear Son unto a perfection of holiness and righteousness, his love went forth, not only to fix their state by firm decree, but to add another blessing, the highest and greatest which even his love could bestow, that is, to make them his own children by adoption, and thus himself become their Father and their God. He might, so to speak, have rested short of this. To choose them to perfect holiness and spotless perfection would have abundantly secured their happiness, for this is all that the angels have. But his love to his dear Son was so vast, yes, so infinite, that having chosen a people in him, his love went out towards them as one with his own Son, and in the depth of that love he predestinated them unto the adoption of children unto himself.
Here, then, we see a solid and substantial reason why "in love" should be prefixed to "having predestinated;" for it more clearly and distinctly shows us the movements of God's love, in enriching the Church with that greatest and best of all blessings, the adoption of children unto himself. Viewing them in Christ, in union to the Son of his love, he would do more for them than make them perfect in holiness and righteousness. He would adopt them as his own children, and love them with the same love as that with which he loved his dear Son! A figure may perhaps help us here. A father chooses a bride for his son, as Abraham chose one of his own kin for Isaac, and gives her a goodly dowry, besides presenting her with bridal ornaments, such as Eleazar put upon Rebekah. But on becoming the spouse of his son, she becomes his daughter, and now his affections flow forth to her, not only as a suitable bride for his dear son; not only does he admire her beauty and grace, and is charmed with the sweetness of her disposition, but he is moved also with fatherly love towards her as adopted unto himself, and thus occupying a newer and nearer relationship.
Figures are, of course, necessarily imperfect, and as such must not be pressed too far; but if the one which we have adduced at all helps us to a clearer understanding of the wondrous love of God in the adoption of us unto himself, it will not be out of place. We thus see that predestination to the adoption of children is a higher, richer, and greater blessing than being chosen unto holiness and blamelessness, and may thus be said to follow upon them as an additional and special fruit of God's love.
But the love of God, in predestinating the Church unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, has even a deeper root than viewing her as the Bride of his dear Son. It springs out of, and is most closely and intimately connected with the true, real, and eternal Sonship of Jesus. Being chosen in Christ, the elect become the sons of God. Why? Because he is the true, real, and essential Son of the Father; and thus, as in union with him, who is the Son of God by nature, they become the sons of God by adoption. Were he a Son merely by office, or by incarnation, this would not be the case, for he would then only be a Son by adoption himself. But being the Son of God by eternal subsistence, he can say, "Behold I and the children which you have given me." "I your Son by nature, they your sons by adoption." We see, then, that so great, so special was the love of God to his only-begotten Son, that, viewing the Church in union with him, his heart embraced her with the same love as that with which he loved him!
The Apostle, therefore, adds, "Unto himself." No words could so well set forth the thoughts of God's heart toward the Church, and the ultimate consummation of his eternal purposes. In choosing the Church in Christ unto holiness, and in predestinating her unto the adoption of children, it was to bring her into union and communion with himself. But this she could not have as a creature, however holy and perfect, except by union with the Son of God. Angels are holy and without blame before God, but they have not union and communion with him. Why? Because they have not union and communion with his dear Son. "He took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham." Christ could not, therefore, say of angels, "I in them and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one." Nor could he use of them those wondrous words, "That they all may be one; as you Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us." (John 17:21, 23.)
But as we must not linger too long on any one point, we pass on to our exposition of the next words, "According to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the Beloved." (Eph. 1:5, 6.) Two things are spoken of here as moving causes in the mind of God—1. The good pleasure of his will; 2. The praise of the glory of his grace. We will look at these separately.
1. "According to the good pleasure of his will." This we may call the determining cause of the whole of God's counsel in the choice of the Church, and blessing her with all spiritual blessings, as the praise of the glory of his grace was the ultimate end. Thus to endow and bless her was his sovereign will; and observe the expression, "the good pleasure of his will." All things are and exist only by the will of God; that is, his naked, absolute, sovereign will. But when he willed that there should be a Church in union with his dear Son; he rejoiced and delighted in that peculiar act of his will. It was, therefore, the "good pleasure of his will." An earthly sovereign must sometimes punish. It is necessary to good government that the law should be strictly executed; but, though his will, it is not his good pleasure. He does not delight in executing a necessary act of justice; but, in exercising his prerogative of mercy in the pardon of a criminal, he may enjoy a sensible pleasure. So God is said to delight in mercy; (Micah 7:18;) whereas to punish is "his strange act," (Isa. 28:21,) as if it were foreign to his merciful disposition. When, then, God chose the Church unto holiness and blamelessness, and predestinated her unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself, it was not only his will—but the good pleasure of his will. And this gives us another reason for connecting "in love" with "having predestinated;" for the good pleasure of his will, according to which he chose and blessed the Church—was the carrying out of his love into a positive act of pleasurable will.
How beautiful it is to see the sweet and glorious harmony between the love of God, the good pleasure of God, and the will of God, and all moving in blessed concert in electing the Church in Christ to holiness and righteousness—and predestinating her to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself. What views it gives us of God, not merely as an absolute sovereign, and as such disposing all things according to the counsel of his own will—but going forth in goodness and love! That as we see and feel our lost and ruined state, we may, by the power of his grace, know and believe the love that God has to us, (1 John 4:16,) and be thus encouraged ever to look and wait upon him.
2. The next point to be considered is the ultimate END of these counsels of God—"To the praise of the glory of his grace." But as this is a wide subject, we must defer out thoughts upon it to our next paper.